Egypt’s Cabinet on Monday approved President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s three-month state of emergency following two deadly bombings at Coptic churches on Sunday.
Twin attacks attacks at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the northern port city of Alexandra and St. George’s Coptic Church in Tanta, about 113 km (70 miles) north of the capital Cairo killed at least 44 people and injured more than 100 others.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement on its Amaq agency.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Sisi further ordered troops to be deployed around the country, announced the creation of a “Supreme Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism” and promised additional measures to prevent future terror attacks.
Egypt’s emergency law
Egypt was under a 31-year state of emergency from 1981-2012 under long-term leader Hosni Mubarak. The emergency expired on May 31, 2012, four-and-half months after Mubarak resigned.
In August 2014, interim president Adly Mansour declared a one-month state of emergency after police violently dispersed protests in support of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
The emergency was extended for two months but eventually expired on November 14, 2013.
Sisi must submit the order for parliamentary approval within seven days.
Once approved by a majority of parliament, the emergency can be extended for three-month intervals by a two-thirds majority vote.
Arrest, prosecution and censorship
Egypt’s emergency law grants the government sweeping arrest, search and surveillance powers, designed to prevent further terror attacks. The law can also be used to limit freedom of movement.
The law further grants the government the power to refer civilians to emergency courts. The courts allow for expedited prosecution and have no appeal process, according to Mada Masr.
Additionally, the law gives the president power to impose a curfew; monitor all forms of correspondence or communication; close commercial businesses; confiscate private property; and censor publications, including newspapers.
The Al-Bawabah newspaper was confiscated on Sunday. In a statement, the paper’s editor said Monday’s issue contained no information that could threaten national security.
“We openly declared that what happened at the two churches, in our opinion, is a major security lapse and we must hold accountable those responsible, changing the current strategy in combating terrorism.”
Abdo El-Nasr, Al-Bawabah newspaper editor
Broader security concerns
Israel on Monday announced the closure of the Taba border checkpoint with Egypt, citing security risks to Israeli citizens in Sinai. Moments later a rocket fired from Sinai hit a greenhouse in the Israeli community of Eshkol. No one was reported injured.
Islamic State said through Amaq that its militants fired the Grad rocket at “settlements in the Jewish Eshkol region.”
Hours after the law went into effect, missiles fired from a drone hit a house and car in the town of Rafah. Several people were killed and injured, according to News Sinai 24 (Arabic).
Islamic State in North Sinai grew out of the anti-Israel insurgent group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis. In November 2014, ABM pledged allegiance to Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and changed its name to Wilayat Sinai or Sinai Province.
The group has since attacked and murdered security forces, civilians, Christians and anyone believed to be cooperating with the government.
Last month, Islamic State set up a checkpoint outside Arish in search of Christians.
North Sinai has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, but terror attacks have continued seemingly unabated.
Last October, members of parliament from North Sinai called on the government to reduce the curfew in the governorate.
“Residents are subjected to random detentions that may last for long periods without addressing any clear offenses … The curfew is not helping to minimise the threat of militants as much as people might think, on the contrary, these criminals feel free to wander anywhere.”
MP Hossam Tawfik
Other MPs have questioned whether the North Sinai emergency law is unconstitutional. Egypt did not have a parliament when the law was first enacted.
In January, a car bomb in the city of Arish killed eight police officers. The interior ministry quickly claimed security forces dealt with the militants responsible for the bombing, showing footage of 10 men it said were killed in a shootout with police.
The men’s families claimed they were not involved in the bombing at all and had been detained months earlier.